Twisted Straps

Have you ever held a piece of paper up to your lips, pulled it tight and blew on it?  If you did it right, you just turned a piece of paper into a musical instrument.  If you are dealing with a $30.00 strap this same principal can ruin your investment and actually decrease the chance of the freight staying put on your deck.  Here is an illustration of how air at speed can affect the object that it is flowing around.  In this case a load strap.  On the bottom near the letter "c" the air flow is minimal causing barely any movement in the object being affected by the air.  As you climb up to "b" and "a", the vibrations increase.  These vibrations can wreak havoc on load straps

In this picture, the straps are exposed to the air:
Here is a set of crates that were to be transported without a tarp.  There is a picture of an umbrella on these crates and that means that this load should be tarped, but the customer did not want it tarped so it wasn't. The straps are clearly seen with a twist in them.  The distance the straps are from the load and from the trailer to the top of the load is a factor.  On a short load or where the load is as wide as the trailer is, a twist is not necessary.

If there were no twists in these straps, the air would cause vibrations in the straps. The straps would rub violently on the load at all of these points:

The twist keeps this vibration from happening.  All there needs to be is one twist in the strap in between the top of the load and the trailer on this load.  In addition to this the load requires strap protectors which are the small plastic pieces that cover the edge of the crates where the strap touches the load. 

If you didn't twist these straps, they would vibrate and stretch and loosen up as you drive down the road.  They also will rub on the trailer, the load, and wear the strap out.  This load required 8 straps.  They are about $30.00 each so that is about $240.00 worth of straps.  Properly maintained straps can last for ten years on hundreds of loads in all weather conditions.  Improperly maintained straps will last you one load.  Maybe even two. 

Brake Shoes

The following discovery is the result of a pre-trip, walk around inspection. 

A bad brake shoe.  Normally I don't have any issues with brakes because I don't really use them.  Most of the time we do highway driving, and to slow down, we just use the engine brake.  The engine brake is a compression brake, also called a "Jake Brake", named after the Jacobs Brake which is an air driven cylinder that increases the air compression in an engine cylinder, that when released, causes the engine to slow the truck down.

The brake shoes look brand new.  Here is a picture of the old brake shoes next to the new ones - the old ones are on top:

As you can see, the thickness of the brake shoe is almost identical.  These old shoes have 475,000 miles on them.  Hard to believe, but it's true.  The drive axle brakes were replaced last year and were in the same condition; barely used.  The trailer also has these brakes, and they too are in very good condition.  The fact is, that if you use your engine brake correctly, you can get one million plus miles out of a set of brakes. 

So why am I replacing them?  At first glance they look fine, and one of them IS fine.  But here's a closer look:
Can you see it?  Here's an even closer look:

If you click on the picture and make it larger, you'll be able to see a crack in the pad.  This is an automatic fail on a DOT roadside inspection.  If that happens, you'd have to get a certified mechanic to come out and change the brake shoe at the inspection site, which means unnecessary down time, and is one of the reasons why routine inspections are so important.  Even though the shoes have hardly any wear on them, they still get old and sometimes the just start to break down. 

Brake shoes don't like heat.  Neither do wheel seals.  Typically, new drivers will drive their trucks as they would their cars.  This is a tell-tale sign that a newbie driver is behind the wheel.  Trucks require greater stopping distances, and slow travel when going up and down hills, which I'll get into in a later post.  The point is, when drivers use their brakes constantly, they generate tons of heat which causes the wheel seals to prematurely wear out and leak.  Often, they even catch on fire. 

So when you see a truck or trailer with billowing smoke coming out of the wheel areas, it's almost always brake related.  This isn't always the driver's fault, as sometimes the brakes will come out of adjustment while driving, as the result of a bad slack adjuster.  I'll cover that  topic in another post also.   

After the cracks were found, the brake drum was then removed.  It took a while to do this because this brake drum was installed at the factory in August 2006, and has never been taken off the truck before.  Because of that, the mechanic had to beat on the drum with a mallet to loosen it up.  Eventually, it came off  and the brakes were replaced.

The drum was in new condition, so they just slid it back on the hub, followed it with the wheel, and in no time at all I had new brakes. 

As a result of taking 15 to 20 minutes to do a proper pre-trip inspection, I not only saved myself from getting a possible DOT violation and points on my CSA, but I also knew that the safety of my vehicle was intact before I got back on the road. 

Routines, Routines, And More Routines

Today I walked around my truck and looked at everything. This is a normal routine for a pre-trip inspection. As a driver, you are responsible for maintaining the vehicle so it will pass inspections given at weigh stations along our routes. It's important that you catch anything early enough to do something about it. By anything, I mean just that, anything. You look for bolts sticking out of your tires, fluids leaking on the ground, loose securement devices on your load, loose wires sticking out, broken glass, broken plastic lights, and broken suspension components.

Typically you can see most major problems during a walk around inspection. I have a tire pressure monitoring system on all of my wheels so I don't have to take tire pressure readings everyday manually; the system does it automatically every 5 seconds. There's a long list of items that have to be checked and tested every day. I check under the hood every time I fuel, looking for leaks, broken bolts, low fluid levels, and anything else that looks out of place. Most of the time I catch the problems before they become worse. Vibrations that come from the engine and the road can wreak havoc on everything. From hose clamps, to fan belts, to every nut and bolt, the vibrations affect the trucks in such a way, eventually everything wears out.

Managing these vibrations is the key. The best practice is to keep a new vibration damper on the crankshaft, new engine mounts in between the engine and frame rails, and new vibration absorbing polyurethane bushings on all vibration creating components. Polyurethane bushings last longer then rubber and dramatically reduce vibrations throughout the truck. In addition to the bushings, new shocks need to be installed every couple of years along with any air bags that add to the suspension.

If you keep up with the walk around inspections and with replacing the key components that wear out, you can keep the truck lasting for years and years.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly


This is my load. Rather, it WAS my load. This is an over-sized load that was transported through the heartland during a drought. This may sound easy because of the word drought, but it was a challenge. It shouldn't have been a challenge, but what happened turned out to be something I couldn't prevent at the loading point. I did try, but without significant load restructuring, it was a load that had to be reworked and monitored like a hawk. That's why it falls into the category of "The Ugly".
You might not think much of this load because it looks like a big rectangular set of boxes right? Well, you would be exactly right about that. It IS a set of rectangular boxes. What else do you see? They are wrapped in white shrink wrap plastic.
This load has no structural integrity. So here is a lightweight load, which was over-sized, and needed to be tarped. Which is exactly what I did.
This being the worst drought since the dust bowl, I shouldn't have had anything to worry about on this trip across the driest part of the country, right? Maybe you can see where I'm going with this; since this is an over-sized load, the route had to be planned in advance and strictly adhered to. At about 5 AM in Columbia, MO I was awakened by lightning and thunderclaps. The sky opened up and just like that, the drought was over. At least where I was parked anyway. This load was tarped very well, in fact, I'm in the habit of over-tarping most loads so that there are no surprises en route.

You might notice in the center of this load are several 2-inch straps - let's fast-forward. During the rain storm, this wide load (with no structural integrity), began to pool water on top of the tarps during the time I was parked for the night, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about that. As the water pooled though, it began to pull the individual tarps away from each other, eventually exposing the white plastic underneath. Fortunately, the weather started to clear so I was able to get moving. My goal was to get out of the rain and shed as much water off the top of the load as possible. And it worked. We were able to make it back to to the drought condition weather, where I was able to position the tarps in the place they should have been, had the skies not opened up and dumped an ocean of water on them.

Because I was not able to reproduce the original conditions I loaded under, I did have my ladder, some chains, and many extra 2 inch straps, which I used to pull the front tarp backward, the middle tarp forward, and the back tarp forward. Once the pooled water was removed from the top of the load, it was easy. The load was never exposed to any rain, and it was delivered on time, safely, and to a happy customer. This is how I like it. There is no way to keep this from happening in the future except to have the customer better reinforce the load, but this is often hard to accomplish as it requires the customer to spend more money on the loads, which they don't want to do.

We run into all sorts of new situations out here on the open road, which require experience and successful tactics to overcome. Many of these situations are completely out of our control and sometimes people get hurt and even lose their lives. It is imperative that every measure be taken to prevent any accidents or bad situations. A wise man once told me, "It isn't what you've done, it's what you're going to do." In other words, it doesn't matter how safe your record is. All that matters is how safe your record is going to be and how you're going to prevent accidents from happening in the here and now.

I am proud of having almost 1 million miles at my current carrier without any accidents, chargeable claims, or moving violations. But all of that is thrown out the window with one careless mistake.

It isn't what I've done, it's what I'm going do. THAT is all that matters.